Portrait of Doña Mariana Belsunse y Salasar. Anonymous. Lima, Peru. 18th century. Oil on canvas. Brooklyn Museum of Art

Stirrup. Peru (probably Lima). Late 18th-early 19th century. Silver. Brooklyn Museum of Art


This painted portrait of Doņa Mariana Belsunse y Salasar was created in Lima, Peru, the capital of the Viceroyalty and center of Spanish power in South America. We can quickly grasp that this elegant woman's portrait, with her elaborate brocade dress, her expensive silver watch, and her cascade of pearl jewelry, was designed to convey her status and social identity. The lady's stirrup to the right is much like one that Doņa Mariana herself would have used, and provides a material reality to the world which the portrait represents.

Once we imagine the feel of a metal stirrup as it slipped over Doņa Mariana's shoe, we begin to hear the rustle of her elegant dress, and glimpse the glint of gold and silver as she rode off. Too, we might wonder how women like Doņa Mariana accrued the wealth to purchase their finery, or who made such dresses, stirrups and watches. Through a juxtaposition of portrait and stirrup, the "reading" of both objects opens, and we begin to see art, history, and culture from a broader perspective. It is this nexus of object, history and culture that we think of as “visual culture.”


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Copyright 2003, Dana Leibsohn and Barbara Mundy
Please credit as: Leibsohn, Dana, and Barbara Mundy, Vistas: Spanish American Visual Culture, 1520-1820.
http://www.smith.edu/vistas, 2003.